Address by Mr Dick Roche, T.D.,
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government,
at the launch of the Heritage Council’s Strategic Plan 2007-2011
in The Parade Tower, Kilkenny Castle, Thursday 19 April 2007, 12 Noon.
I am delighted to be here today in Kilkenny Castle, in this spectacular heritage building, to officially launch the Heritage Council’s Strategic Plan 2007-2011. I would like to thank Dr. Tom O’Dwyer, Chairman of the Heritage Council, for his kind invitation. I would also like to commend the members of the Council, the Chief Executive, Michael Starrett and the staff for their valued work and commitment in putting this Plan together. I think it is fair to say that the Council has earned the respect of professionals in its fields of operation and of the public in its relatively short lifetime.
This is the third strategic plan produced by the Heritage Council and it marks another important milestone in the history and achievements of the Council. In this particular case, the strategic plan is not dealing with increased sales targets and profit margins but with the conservation and care of the nation’s heritage to ensure its preservation for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.
Our heritage provides us with our sense of identity and place. It is a vital contributor to our economy and provides a spiritual and social storehouse that we draw on daily. It can be difficult to fully anticipate the diverse challenges to protect a nation’s heritage, but a strategic plan is the first step in initiating this process. A strategic Plan provides the mechanism to outline priorities for the care and management of our heritage in the short term and for the future.
Practical research is the critical component of our knowledge economy. It is, therefore, encouraging to see that the Heritage Council, through its Strategic Plan, has identified key research areas in relation to heritage and in particular with regard to the natural heritage where there is still work to be done.
This plan identifies key gaps in our knowledge such as the need to understand the impact of climate change on Ireland’s flora and fauna, an assessment of the value of our rich grasslands and rare habitats, and a better understanding of the economic contribution of the natural heritage.
On the cultural front, the re-use of various aspects of the built heritage - such as disused churches and farm buildings - highlights the changes the country has undergone in such a short time. Finding new purposes for these buildings is important on many levels not least because they are a distinctive part of our landscape.
Substantive work has already been done to date in the identification, preservation and protection of our rich national archaeological resource. A number of new discoveries of major significance both nationally, and indeed internationally, have been made in recent years. My Department is actively investigating these together with experts from the Council and the National Museum of Ireland among others. I am mindful here particularly of the Viking site at Woodstown in County Waterford and the ongoing excavation of a largely intact medieval boat in the River Boyne near Drogheda.
The Council has recently outlined to me important research needs which will continue to ensure that Ireland’s world-class archaeological resource is widely disseminated both nationally and internationally. My officials in the National Monuments Service are considering the Council’s research related proposals in detail. I am confident that, together, the Council, my Department and the Royal Irish Academy can put in place the foundations of a national programme. This programme will to further enhance Ireland’s reputation in the field of archaeological research.
An example of our ongoing co-operation is the major new initiative I launched recently into researching major Irish Battlefields with a view to ultimately affording a number of sites statutory protection under the National Monuments Acts. Professor Gabriel Cooney of UCD and the Heritage Council is a serving adviser on the project’s panel of experts.
The Heritage Council has always taken a co-operative approach to working with others and this principle of partnership continues to be a priority in the new Strategic Plan.
With support from the Council, the development of a heritage infrastructure at local level has been built up over the past decade in conjunction with local authorities. The establishment of the Heritage Officer network and more recently the addition of a number of Biodiversity Officers, highlights the priority this Government places on having expertise and developmental input at local level.
Furthermore, I am confident that local authorities will avail of the substantial increased funding for Conservation Officers which I announced last week as part of my Department’s Built Heritage Programme for 2007.
Many would say that "all politics is local" but all heritage is local and where there is a strong sense of local ownership, conservation and best practice follow.
Promoting a better understanding of the significance of Ireland’s heritage and improving knowledge about its conservation lie at the heart of this Strategic Plan. As International Biodiversity Day draws near I know it will be another successful year in bringing a better understanding of Ireland’s natural heritage to a wider public. The Notice Nature campaign being run by my Department has also helped generate awareness of the issues amongst key sectors. I wish to congratulate the Heritage Council on the important driving role it played in setting up the National Biodiversity Data Centre.
The"Heritage in Schools" scheme now has 130 specialists who visit primary schools to take children outdoors to experience their local heritage in a hands-on way.
The aim of this programme synergises with the "Archaeology in the Classroom" programme which my Department initiated in recent years with the Limerick Education Centre. This is vitally important as a way of learning about heritage but also as a means of using heritage itself as a learning tool. We have arrived at a time when the virtual world of computers may be more accessible to many children than the world of nature. This programme aims to foster an interest in the natural world at a young age, which is an essential building block to developing the scientists and engineers of the future. I hope that these programmes will continue to reach children across the country and foster that interest.
Recent Fáilte Ireland figures show that 82% of tourists visiting our country rate scenery as an important reason for visiting Ireland. Our built heritage, scenic landscapes and coastlines, towns and villages are the core product of Ireland’s tourism industry. We must meet the challenge of protecting their distinctiveness and character forfuture generations. Tourism remains one of the key industries which benefits regional development and generates employment in rural areas and this is set to continue to expand over the next decade.
I am delighted to be able to provide €12m to the Heritage Council this year for their Grant schemes and general administration expenses. My Department will also provide a further sum of €1.8m for various high profile Heritage Projects including Westport House, and Russburough House which the Heritage Council manage. I note that steady progress is being made on the refurbishment of the Bishops Palace as the new HQ of the Council and that you will take up residence by the end of the year.
As part of my Department’s Built Heritage Capital Programme for 2007 I am providing a sum of €2 million via the Heritage Council for the Walled Towns Network to allow conservation works to be carried out on medieval Town Walls in Ireland. We are lucky to have some fine examples throughout the country in towns such as Athenry, Athlone, Carlingford, Carrickfergus, Cashel, Clonmel, Cork City, Drogheda, Dublin, Fethard, Galway, Kilkenny, Kilmallock, Limerick, Trim, Waterford, Wexford and Youghal.
I am aware that the Heritage Council identified Walled Towns as a priority in its Strategic Plan and set up the Walled Towns Network several years ago. I am delighted to be able to support this worthwhile initiative which will contribute to the conservation of walls in these particular towns.
The work programme of The Heritage Council as outlined in this Strategic Plan is an extremely ambitions one. Its role will continue to be one that drives change. It is only through working with others, in a collaborative approach, that this programme can be realised and the benefits enjoyed by all. We are committed to a vision of a future where heritage is enjoyed in a sustainable way on a local, national and international level. We look forward to positive results from this ambitious plan and I take this opportunity to wish the members and staff of the Heritage Council every success with its implementation over the next five years.